Having completed a try dive with Rainbow Divers, we had made the decision to invest some of our budget in attempting our PADI Open Water Diving qualification. It’s quite a considerable amount of money when you are budgeting for ongoing travel, but the chance to get this under our belts with a team that we were familiar with, and in excellent diving conditions was just too good an opportunity to pass up.
So, with considerable excitement, we left Cat Ba and returned to Nha Trang.
It’s a nice feeling to return to places, to arrive without apprehension and having a little more understanding of where you are going, how much a taxi should cost-and where to get the best food! We even returned to the same hotel, where we were greeted with recognition and an appreciation of our return business-so far so good.
We made our way straight to Crazy Kims, the bar from which Rainbow Divers operated. It was clear that the ‘season’ was in full swing now-the dive centre was a hive of activity with many sunburnt smiling faces returning from their day on the boat.
We got ourselves booked in for our PADI course, and discovered that we would be taught by the instructor that had taken us for our try dives-a Dutch guy called Quentin. This was quite the result, we had both felt extremely comfortable with him on our initial dives, and he had done wonders to reassure Jo of any apprehension left over from her previous diving experiences.
Just to give you the background, Jo had started a PADI course in New Zealand a number of years back, and had a bad experience where she ended up panicking in the water-so not only was this the task of learning the necessary skills, Jo would also be trying to overcome some considerable fear.
The course would be over four days-the first day in the classroom doing all of the theory and written exams; day two we would be going to the nearby navy diving pool for instruction in various underwater techniques; then the final two mornings we would be out on the boat doing our four open water dives-very exciting indeed.
Day one in the pool and all was well-I won’t bore you with all the techniques that you cover, there is loads of information around on the internet if you’re interested-I would suggest further reading on the PADI website.
All was well, that is until we reached the final test-the full mask removal. This is something which proves to be a common difficulty for many people who do these courses, and unfortunately it was something that Jo was struggling with. Every other technique had been completed with no issue, but when it came to removing the mask Jo just couldn’t stop herself from inhaling water, and rising to the surface in a minor panic. It was gut wrenching, Quentin regretfully informed us that Jo would not be able to dive unless she got this skill nailed, but the more she tried the more frustrating it proved.
Feeling something of a heavy heart, we returned to the hotel to blast the internet to find others that struggled with the same thing-and to hopefully find some way to solve the issue. It was with some reassurance that we discovered how common an issue it was-although no simple answers, there were a few suggestions which seemed to be worth thinking about when we would be getting out on the boat the next morning.
Arriving at our first dive site and we had prepped our kit and done our pre dive checks, it was time to get into the water. As we went to make our first descent, Jo’s demons returned and she just could not go ahead with the dive. She was gutted, understandably, and returned to the boat with the option of doing some snorkelling while we continued with the course. It was horrible thinking of Jo as I continued down to the dive site, I knew that she would be upset and frustrated and I wanted to get back on deck-but obviously that wasn’t an option. 20m visibility and a cacophony of colours invading my mask, the coral and fish giving me some other worldly vista…but only for brief moments. You see, I am still always aware of the fear, the fear that I am underwater and I need to concentrate on doing all that I have been instructed to do. Every now and again, I would catch glimpses of this fantastical environment, but for the most part I was consumed with self awareness and, indeed, self preservation…….And Quentin, hand signals giving me instruction, and his backside leading the way.
The first dive complete and we returned to the boat to set sail for our next dive site-Jo was in surprisingly good spirits and being a lot more positive than I would have been…Whether that was a direct result of cake consumption or not I’m not sure, but she was handling things brilliantly. At the second site I continued my course and Jo got involved with some snorkelling, the excellent visibility treating Jo to more of a coral colour show than I managed to muster-with my blinkered concentration only allowing me glimpses of the world around me!
On our return journey Quentin came to debrief us and seemed resigned to finishing Jo’s course with a program of snorkelling for the next day-this was a desperately disappointing conversation to close the morning off. Having returned to shore and gotten back to our hotel, we decided to approach Rainbow Divers and ask them to get Jo back in the Navy pool to get her skills finalised on the last day. Given that we had paid for the PADI course, an afternoon of snorkelling wouldn’t be enough to get out of it, and getting over the hurdle of the face mask removal would obviously be of more benefit. Quentin agreed to help us out and take Jo back to the pool for a one to one session the next day-hopefully nailing all the necessary skills. Somewhat happier with the situation, we ate and went to hit the sack early ready for the final day in the water. Lo and behold when we got back to the hotel there was a phone call from Quentin, the following day wouldn’t be possible to take Jo to the pool-so he wanted her to come out on the boat again and we would find ‘pool like conditions’ where Jo could try the skills once again. On the one hand it was great that Jo would be out on the boat with me again, on the other it added a certain amount of uncertainty back into the equation. Little did we know that this twist of fate would prove to be the absolute best thing that could have happened!
Out on the boat for the final time and my penultimate dive served to tick the final boxes on the skills that I needed to demonstrate to pass my PADI qualification-I had done it, just one ‘fun dive’ left where I would be ‘just diving’ for the first time.
Now it was time for Jo to get back in the water and find a spot to try and get the mask removal nailed. As Quentin and Jo swam a bit further towards shore, I took the opportunity to do some snorkelling myself while I waited. Jo seemed to be in the water for an absolute age, by this time I had returned to deck and had immersed myself in a program of coffee drinking and cake eating! Soon enough there was movement at the back of the boat and I made my way to meet Jo as she returned to deck. Broad smiles on their faces seemed to be a good indicator, not only had Jo managed to nail the full mask removal first time (plus another two times!), but Quentin had also gotten her to complete the rest of the required skills. Basically Jo completely nailed it! Quite obviously delighted, Quentin then informed us that he would be more than happy for Jo to join us on our final dive. She would not take away the final PADI accreditation, but she would only have to complete three more open water dives to finish the course. It seemed a far cry from the disappointment of the previous day, and taking to the waters together for the final dive was a superb way to finish our time here.
Summarising our experience, Rainbow Divers were excellent and the diving in Nha Trang was wonderful. Quentin deserves special recognition for his patience and effort-we are now both proud owners of dive log books, and we are looking forward to finding somewhere else in the world to get Jo’s final three dives ticked off.
This would also be our final act in Vietnam, for now we return to Cambodia, and a six week volunteer teaching post in a Cambodian province.